extremely impressive or daunting; inspiring great admiration, apprehension, or fear.
A few weeks ago, I had the awesome honor of pacing ultra-marathon runner and internet winning flow chart designing dude Chris as he ran his second 100 miler, the Vermont 100. Chris had emailed me early in the summer and asked if I would pace him. I checked my calendar and immediately said yes. It wasn’t until the next day when I took a look at the course, notably, the elevation profile. The entire course is 14,000-15,000 ft of elevation gain and loss, which meant I needed to train on hills starting yesterday. I found whatever hills I could in Manhattan and ran as many repeats as my legs could handle. Thanks to my training, I’m now intimately familiar with the graffiti along the Williamsburg Bridge, and can tell you all about the intricacies of the Harlem Hills.
The race day (or more accurately, race night) plan was to run the last 30 miles together, with nearly all of those coming after sunset. I made half a dozen PBJ sandwiches, threw some gatorade and Vitamin Water into the car, grabbed a whole pack full of Honey Stinger bars and chews, made sure I had my foot-saving Topo socks (seriously, those things are genius), put on my We Can bracelet (a little extra motivation and inspiration never hurts)and Sparkly Soul headband, and made sure to wear my NYCRUNS Brooklyn Marathon hat and I was on my way to Vermont. I arrived at the mile 50/70 aid station on Saturday afternoon not knowing what to expect. I’ve run almost 30 marathons and three 50 milers, but the scene here was unlike anything I’d ever experienced: socks and shirts changed, water bottles topped off, blisters popped, salt and sugar consumed at impressive rates, and grilled cheese sandwiches disappearing faster than they could be made. Shortly after I arrived, Chris came through mile 50, looking like he only ran a 5km. His wife Surjeet (aka crew chief), Becky (fellow crewer and navigator extraordinaire), and I met up with him again around mile 60, and he still seemed in very good spirits. Then, we drove back to the mile 70 aid station, where it was my turn to start running. I filled up my water bladder, put on my pack and headlamp, said a few prayers to the running gods, and off we went.
The next segment of the course was tough – according to another runner it was a 10% grade straight UP for 2 miles. It took us 3 hours to go 12 miles. The marathoner in me was appalled. Darkness came quickly, and the intensity of the run reached new levels of “holy crap is this actually happening?” with each passing hour. It was unlike any run I’ve had – in 30 miles we probably saw less than 10 cars, and nearly all of them were associated with the race. We crossed grassy fields, where the only things visible in the heavy darkness were the bobbing lights from other headlamps. On trails, flickering lights from nearby runners were enough to make me question my sanity, and (re)evaluate my mental fatigue – was that a person or the reflective eyes of an animal? (This was usually followed up with, “Seriously, though, where the hell are we?”) In the fog, runners up ahead cast a silhouette that could have been used to advertise a horror movie (a bunch of exhausted, disoriented people running through the woods at night. No cell service. No idea where they are. Oh god…) It was truly surreal. When passing each other, runners gave a grunt or a nod. Some tried to tell jokes, some couldn’t muster the energy to look up. At mile 89, we met up with Surjeet and Becky, when shortly after saying our goodbyes and watching Chris expertly pack grilled cheese squares into his pockets, we felt the first drops of rain. At 1am, with 10 miles to go, the skies opened up. Lightning lit up the landscape and for a split second, I could finally see my surroundings. Rolling fields, farmhouses in the distance, trails winding through the forest. This must be pretty. during the day.
We saw his crew again at mile 95 (or was it 94? Or 96?) and it was time to get this thing done. After all, it was 2:30am and Chris had been running for over 22 hours. I was SO impressed at how well he kept it all together – I’ve heard stories of people losing their shit (literally and figuratively) and going crazy and forgetting the last time they peed or who the president was, but he did none of that (or if he did, he did a hell of a job hiding it)! After leaving the mile 95ish aid station, the terrain started to get pretty bad thanks to the rain – we almost lost our shoes in the mud and at some points it felt like we were ice skating because it was so slippery. After passing a small plain white sign that unceremoniously announced that there was 1 mile to go, Chris took off, finishing under his goal in 23 hours, 26 minutes and 35 seconds just before 3:30am. To say I was amazed would have been an understatement. 100 miles. On foot. Less than 24 hours. Unreal.
We all hung out for about an hour in the food/medical tent and watched as people came in – some walking casually, others hobbling, some barely standing upright, but all dripping wet, freezing, looking utterly exhausted. One guy walked in, soaking wet, wearing only spandex shorts and a running belt, laid face down in the middle of the tent, and promptly fell asleep. His ankles were still flexed. Someone put a blanket over him and he didn’t even move. Someone else checked to make sure he was breathing. (He was.)
When the storm finally eased up, we headed out, them to their tent, I to my car. I couldn’t quiet my head down enough to nap in the car, I was still buzzing from the run. At 5:30am, I started driving, I couldn’t wait to get home to shower and SLEEP. I’m so glad I went and am so thankful/grateful/honored Chris asked me to pace. It was a fantastic (learning) experience, and probably the most important lesson is that I’m not ready for a 100 mile race. Someday, but just not yet.
My last 50 mile race was 2 years ago and it was on trails in early July in (mountainous) Ithaca, NY. It took me 10 hours and 40 minutes to complete, mostly because I had no idea what I was doing and took it very cautiously. This time, it was about 30 degrees cooler and the race — the Nashville Ultra — was on much less technical terrain. With the more favorable conditions, I wanted to see if I could maintain a 10 minute mile and finish between 8 and 9 hours.
All packed and ready to go.
I lost a toenail the night before, and, like the crazy runner that I am, considered it a stroke of luck. When the race started the next morning, I was nervous, but was mentally okay with the fact that if my injuries started to bother me, the absolute worst case scenario was that I’d DNF. (And if that happened, I was really hoping I’d make it at least halfway.) The course was mostly on paved bike path, with a few miles on trails. It was 2 out-and-backs, the first was a 17.5 mile loop, then we came back to the start/finish area where we then went on a 32.5 mile loop in the opposite direction.
For the first 10 miles or so, I was actually a little bored — I was running at a pace that’s 3 minutes slower than what I’m used to so I eventually got impatient and started passing a bunch of people, but since I’m a nervous Nellie, I was worried that I was going too fast and everyone would pass me again later in the race. I made quick stops at the mile 5.5 and 12.5 aid stations for a little Powerade and saw Sam at the start/finish at mile 17.5. He told me I needed to eat something and handed me a sandwich. Right. Calories. I forgot. I had been running for over 3 hours and the only thing I ate were some Honey Stinger energy chews. My bad. So, I (begrudgingly) ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich over the course of the next 3 miles, probably ingesting as much tin foil as bread.
Around mile 21, my energy dipped and I started to doubt myself — I knew I still had 29 more miles to go and at this rate, I realized it was going to be a long day. Thankfully, Sam surprised me at the mile 23.5 aid station where I got a hug, blew my nose and got snot all over my sunglasses (so classy), and had my first sip of flat soda. I don’t drink soda, but that Coke was delicious. Mmm sugar! I got an energy boost when he told me I was in 2nd place. Wait, what?! My goal was just to finish in one piece and now I might podium? The competitor in me woke up and I blew out of the aid station at 8:15min/mile. I kept trying to slow down, but I’d subconsciously keep speeding up. At that point, I had made it halfway, still feeling good, so I decided I would run at whatever pace I felt comfortable, after all, I “only” had 25 miles to go (ahh, the things that sound normal in the middle of an ultra). I kept up a faster-than-expected pace, making my way through downtown Nashville, having a quick “oh shit I’m lost moment” where I stopped for a few minutes, but calmed down and realized I was on course. Crisis averted.
Pit stop at the mile 30 aid station — more Powerade, more Honey Stinger chews. I tried eating another sandwich, but just didn’t have the stomach for it, so it went the way of the garbage. As I was passing mile 32 on my way out to the turn around point, I saw the first place female on her way back in, at her mile 35. I calculated that she had about 25 minutes on me, so something drastic would have to happen for me to move into first. I just kept going at a pace that was comfortable, so happy that I was running so fast so late into the race. I hit the turn around point, a volunteer asked for a selfie, and then I headed back towards the start\finish. Met up with my personal pacer Sam at mile 37, took a swig of Coke, refused more food, and kept going.
I breezed through the mile 40 aid station, feeling remarkably good. More tasty soda, more Powerade, and we were off. At mile 41, I passed a guy who said to me, “how can you be running so fast after 40 miles?!” I said I wasn’t really sure, and that was the honest truth. But after that, I started to think, “OH GOD. I JUST RAN 40 MILES.” At about mile 44 I said something to Sam about being amazed I was keeping up a sub 9min/mile pace, and then of course 10 minutes later came the inevitable mental crash. I knew I was almost done, but at the same time it felt like I still had so far to go. “I have to do this for another hour? UGH.” And since it was an out-and-back, I knew what portions of the course I still needed to cover, including a hill that in my mind had turned into a large mountain, when in reality, it was probably only slightly steeper than Cat Hill in Central Park. Sam was telling me all these great, inspiring things, but all I could do was grunt in response. I kept my head down, and just kept moving.
With less than a half mile to go, Sam took off so he could make it to the finish before me to get pictures. I ran the last half mile by myself and cried. Goddamn. I did it. 50 miles. Under 8 hours (7 hours 51 minutes, to be exact).
I wiped my eyes as I crossed the finish line, and felt remarkably okay. Last time I was so dizzy I had to lay down, this time I hung around the finish area and ate what tasted like the best donut I’ve ever had in my life. (Also, I learned that cold Domino’s Pizza is DELICIOUS after running 50 miles.) I changed my clothes, walked around, face timed with my sister, brother-in-law, and nephew, and spent the next three days in utter disbelief. It was a great day. I was relaxed, I felt good. I had a ton of fun. And then I ate all of the BBQ in Nashville.
It would be dishonest of me to make it seem like I crossed that finish line by myself. I had a team of amazing people that helped me get through the summer and fall: thanks to the fine folks at Honey Stinger for keeping me fueled. Super thanks to my family for checking in on me and keeping me laughing and full of food (and wine). Thanks to my coach John Hirsch for his help training both my mind and my body, and for always telling it to me straight. Thanks to my physical therapist Dan at DASH PT for the early morning Mets chatter and for working miracles on my IT band and tendinitis. Thank you to Sam for dealing with my pre-race jitters (AKA when I turn into a bitch), and for being there at mile 49.5. Thank you to my big sister Meghan, for her unyielding support and encouragement. Maylo, the life force is stronger with you around. 🙂
I stumbled off the plane, eyes bleary and head foggy from the 11 hour trip. It was 2pm on July 4. I made it: I was in Hawaii. After a particularly rough beginning to the summer (to put it mildly), I used up all my frequent flier miles and (impulsively? uncharacteristically? decisively?) booked an 8 day trip to Hawaii. Thanks to United Airlines, it cost a whopping $11.20 to fly direct from Newark to Honolulu. I called it my “eat pray love / wild” trip, but it turned out to be more of an “eat run love live laugh talk sleep cry smile swim” kind of week. I was going to visit my uncle who I hadn’t seen in probably 20 years (oh god, that I can even say that makes me feel so old). Sure, I was a little nervous — I mean, I hadn’t seen this man in 2 decades and I was going to spend 8 days with him in his house? Was I crazy? Maybe. I had a week in Kaneohe to find out…
The trip was everything I expected and nothing at all like I thought it would be: every morning I went for a run in hot, humid, hilly Hawaii, and I had take a second and convince myself that this was real.
Thanks to the wonders of cortisone and a little bit of Noni, my ankle was feeling better and for the first time in two months, I was running regularly. Don’t get me wrong — those first few runs weren’t pretty — it took about 4 days for me not to feel like a drunken baby giraffe learning how to walk, but I think I finally got the hang of it. I was eating clean (very little dairy and sweets, and no meat, alcohol, or caffeine), snacking on papayas, mangoes, avocados, cherries, watermelon, and of course, my Honey Stinger bars. I was swimming (more like bobbing around) in the ocean and relaxing on the beach. I was talking to my uncle, getting to know a man I hadn’t had contact with for so long. We talked about everything from washing machines to reincarnation, along with a healthy dose of family, music, surfing, and science. Turns out, my uncle is a pretty cool dude. I mean, you can kind of guess that when you hear he’s lived in Hawaii for 30+ years and you see the surfboards hanging over his kitchen table. But, when you hear stories of how he sang backing vocals for Carly Simon at Carnegie Hall, or the shows he saw at The Bitter End and the Fillmore East, or the cross- country trips in his VW van, you gotta figure this guy is pretty awesome.
My Uncle Tom helped me get my head back on straight and, in our time together, taught me a little bit (ok, more like a lot of bit) about myself. He taught me about love, forgiveness, and the importance of family. About being kind to yourself and others. About having patience and having faith that everything will work out. And through all this, I was lucky enough to get back to doing what makes me happy: running. I like to think I’ll keep his lessons with me back in New York but if I need a little help remembering, I know the mango I have ripening on my counter will remind me of our trip to the North Shore, and the cherries in my fridge will remind me of the fireworks on the beach in Kailua. And if this doesn’t work, we’ll always have our selfies!
“The saddest sight my eyes can see
Is that big ball of orange sinkin’ slyly down the trees”
Ahh, the 5:15am alarm. I’m either traveling or racing a marathon, because those are the only 2 reasons I’d be up this early. Okay, time to get dressed, eat my bagel, use the bathroom (TMI, but for reals: it’s a MUST before a race. Trust me), then head out to Eisenhower Park for the Long Island Marathon. I won the race in 2013, then in 2014 did a much hillier, but very scenic, race in Southern Vermont where I came in second by 2 seconds. Yes. Two freaking seconds.
Anyway, I digress. I’m back at the 2015 LI race, but I almost didn’t make it to the start line: a few days before the race, I was talking to my aunt and she was asking me things like, when does the race start? What’s your bib number? In other words, all things I really should know. So, I look on the website. OK, race starts at 8am. Great. What’s my bib number? I search for my name in the list of registered entrants and it says, “You are registered for 0 events.” Aaaaand commence freak out. After a string of 4 letter expletives, I take a deep breath, and search my email. Apparently, I never registered for the race. FAIL KELLY. Thankfully I was able to register in person two days before the race, but holy cow, talk about high anxiety.
The weather for Sunday was supposed to be warm — a high of 76 — which, if you ask me, is about 25 degrees too warm for a marathon. Plus, with almost half the course being on the Wantagh Parkway, I knew I’d have to be careful with hydration and not wilting in the sun. I spent the first few miles trying to settle into a comfortable pace, as I didn’t want to go faster than 7:05-7:10 (memories, painful horrible memories, of going out too fast in the 2014 NYC marathon have scarred me for life).
At mile 10, we leave the side streets and turn onto the Wantagh Parkway where we’ll be until just past mile 22. I actually kind of love this part of the course because it’s wide, mostly flat, and quiet. This is where the race really started for me — I picked up the pace and was running 6:50s pretty consistently and felt great (probably also due to the fact that I just had my first Honey Stinger energy gel). I saw Sam and got a surprise visit from my aunt, uncle, and cousin around mile 13, where I found out I was in 4th place and the 2nd and 3rd place girls were about 60-90 seconds ahead of me. I asked how far ahead the first place woman was. Sam said, “just run. Just keep going.” HA. Translation: She’s FAR.
Around mile 14, I picked off the 3rd place girl, and then at the turnaround point at mile 16.5, I saw the first place woman make her hairpin turn and head back. By my watch, she still had a good 4 minutes on me. Bollocks. At mile 17, I caught up to the 2nd place woman and the strangest thing happened: as I passed her, she stopped running. Like, literally stopped in her tracks and started walking. I asked if she was okay and she said, “oh yea I’m fine.” Uhh, ok…
Now I’m in 2nd place, about 4 minutes back, and I was on a mission: I had to catch up to the leader. Open Honey Stinger gel #2 and keep on truckin. For the next few miles, I notice something: all the female spectators would say some form of “you go girl!” and other encouraging words, whereas the male spectators were yelling things like, “she’s only 2 minutes ahead of you and she looks TERRIBLE!” or, “you’re only 90 seconds back, and she looks AWFUL. Go get her!” Hmm, I might actually have a chance at this.
I pass Sam and my family at mile 20, they tell me the leader is 90 seconds ahead and is apparently not shy about the fact that she’s not doing so well. I open my Honey Stinger Energy Chews, I know I’ll need them. I keep my pace a steady 6:50 or so, and… MIRACLE! I see the lead bikers! At mile 22 I catch up to them and the woman and I exchange a few words, I say great job keep it up, she tells me how awful she feels. I’m feeling pretty shitty too, but I think I’m hiding it better than she is. I pass her, and have just over 5km to go. Less than 24 minutes. If I can just keep it together for 24 more minutes, I’m good.
The lead bikers escort me off the Wantagh Parkway, and we cover 2 of the longest miles ever, down some road whose name I don’t know in a town I don’t recall because I’m running part of the time with my eyes closed, willing the race to be over. I’m really feeling it now and am up to about a 7:10-7:15 per mile. I open my eyes wide enough and like a mirage, I think I see orange cones. YES. That means we’re going back into Eisenhower Park, the marathon is almost over, and I can eat ice cream and drink soda. Mile 25 comes and goes, I have no idea how close the girl is behind me, I start having paranoid thoughts that somehow she got a second wind. Mile 26, thank freaking god I’m almost finished, I make the last right turn, I see the finish line ahead, I wave frantically to my family. I manage not to trip over the tape. I did it!
Phew. I could really go for some ice cream.
But before I do, I have many people to thank: thank you to Coach John Hirsch for getting my legs and my brain ready, to New York Health and Racquet Club and their amazing staff for getting me strong, to Honey Stinger for keeping me fueled, and to my family and friends. Thank you for putting up with all this running nonsense. You all are amazing.